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Lin-Manuel Miranda on Why a ‘Puerto Rican Dude’ in ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ Is Such a Breakthrough

TheWrap Oscar magazine: ”We’re not only playing the ‘Latino’ roles, but also playing great roles where race is just a part of it — it’s a step forward for representation,“ the actor says


This story about Lin-Manuel Miranda and “Mary Poppins Returns” was drawn from an interview conducted for the January issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

Lin-Manuel Miranda has been credited with breaking new ground in theater with his Broadway hit “Hamilton,” which recasts the founding fathers with hip-hop music and nonwhite actors. But these days, the self-described “Puerto Rican dude” from New York City is taking particular pleasure that “Mary Poppins Returns” director Rob Marshall cast him as title character’s sidekick, a job handled by Dick Van Dyke in the original 1964 film.

Miranda plays a lamplighter named Jack who was an apprentice to the chimney sweep, Bert, played by Van Dyke. Like his predecessor, Miranda affects a Cockney accent — but his race and background are never mentioned and never an issue.

“It feels significant, the same way it felt significant to me when I saw Raúl Juliá play Gomez Addams in ‘The Addams Family,'” Miranda said of his casting. “That character was not a Latin guy in the original series on Nick at Night when I was watching that show. Or seeing Rita Moreno on ‘The Electric Company’ when I was a kid.

“We’re not only playing the quote-unquote Latino roles, but also playing great roles where race is just a part of it. It’s a step forward, I think, for representation,” he said.

Miranda said his casting in a big Disney movie also felt like the culmination of something that began when he was a student at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, performing in a hip-hop comedy troupe and writing the initial draft of a musical that would become the Broadway hit “In the Heights.”

“I started writing ‘In the Heights’ because I really wanted to be in musicals and I didn’t see a role for myself in what existed out there,” he said. “You know, I don’t have the ballet experience to play Bernardo or Paul in ‘A Chorus Line’ — and if you were a Puerto Rican dude, that’s it. That’s what was in the canon.

“And so really I started writing ‘In the Heights’ when I was 19 years old because I didn’t see another way in for myself. I wrote ‘In the Heights’ and ‘Bring It On’ and ‘Hamilton’ to create opportunities for myself as an actor. The fact that these incredible talents then came to me with ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ and wrote these songs that fit me like a tailored suit — it felt like the fruit of all the hard work I started when I was 19 years old.”

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